At the beginning of the conflict, the submarine Archimede was assigned to the Italian naval base of Massaua, in Italian East Africa. The vessel, under the command of T.V. Signorini, was assigned to the first war patrol off the French colony of Djibouti. The boat left Massaua on June 19th to conduct the operation along with the costal submarine Perla. Even before the declaration of war, the vessel had experienced problems with the air conditioning system, and the assignment to this unscheduled mission caused repair work to be halted. With the mission underway, and within less than a day from departure, some of the crewmembers began experiencing illnesses; these would turn out to be similar to the ones experienced by the crews of the Perla and the Macallè. It is not known what the crew did to remedy the situation; perhaps they began using the air conditioning system less and less, but by the fourth day the apparatus had to be shut down. Several men, including two officers, experienced heat stokes, while in general more and more began showing symptoms of poisoning. Depression and loss of conscience were soon followed by loss of appetite, maniacal behaviors, euphoria, hallucinations, and finally a destructive and homicidal frenzy.
In the late afternoon of the 23rd, the captain seriously considered aborting the mission when orders from the naval command moved the boat 50 miles further to the southeast. During the fatal night, four sailors lost their lives and the captain had no option but to seek refuge in the port of Assab where the vessel arrived at 8:30 AM on the 26th. Immediately after, Massaua sent the necessary replacements, including the captain and the chief engineer. The Archimede left Assab on the 3rd of July under the command of [C.C.] Lieutenant Commander Piomarta to return to Massaua where, finally, the methylchlorid (CH3Cl) was replaced with the much safer Freon. On August 31st, the vessel was once again ready to take to the sea.
During this period, Rome intercepted a British signal giving indication that a large convoy of 20 ships would be leaving Bombay to reach the Red Sea. Admiral Balsano, the commander of the Naval forces in Massaua, ordered all available units to sea, but the Archimede was not ready; this mission would be assigned to the Ferraris and the Guglielmotti. Opportunities for the Archimede came in September when the boat, along with the Guglielmotti and a group of destroyers, was assigned to patrol. During this mission the Archimede was assigned to an area between Gabel Tair and the 19th parallel north.
As should have been expected, Italian East Africa (AOI) was quickly collapsing under the thrust of British forces from Kenya from the south and the Sudan from the north. Without any possibility to receive reinforcements from the motherland, the Italian forces where destined to surrender. Expecting the fall of the naval base, the local command began working on various escape plans. One called for the Archimede to reach Kobe, in Japan, and conduct offensive actions against the enemy traffic along the route. Eventually, only surface ships were sent to Japan, while the remaining submarines were sent around Africa to the submarine base of Bordeaux, in France. The Perla, a smaller unit, left on the 1st of March, the Ferraris and Archimede followed on the 3rd, and the Guglielmotti on the 4th.
Despite the loss of four boats, the morale of the submarine personnel in
Italian East Africa remained good, but physical conditions were rapidly deteriorating due to the high temperatures and debilitating humidity. The submarines ordered to Bordeaux ventured south through the Gulf of Perim, a narrowing highly patrolled by British surface units and aircrafts. The Archimede (C.C. Salvatori), the Ferraris (C.C. Piomarta), the Guglielmotti (C.F. Spagone), and the little Perla (T.V. Napp) took different routes. The larger vessels navigated between Mozambique and Madagascar, while the Perla opted to take a route east of the island. The Archimede, as well as the other submarines, received diesel fuel from the German tanker Northmark and continued the long journey without any major incident. The transfer totaled over 12,700 miles of which only less than 65 were completed while submerged, and required 65 days. The mission was completed in the utmost secrecy, but once the boats reached Bordeaux, Italian newspapers gave great coverage to the event.
After several months in port for the necessary repairs and refitting, the Archimede was once again ready for action. Still under the command of C.C. Marino Salvatori, the boat was sent along with the Cappellini to patrol the Iberian coast, while other boats covered a relatively large sector between Gibraltar and the Azores Islands. This operation, which took the boat near Cape Finisterre and Cape San Vincenzo, did not produce results, mostly due to the complete absence of enemy shipping, but caused the loss of the Baracca , and the Malaspina.
Following this mission, the Archimede was ordered back to the Mediterranean. Still under C.C. Salvatori, the Archimede left Bordeaux and reached the Strait of Gibraltar where, on October 23rd, 1941 it was ordered to attack a convoy. Thereafter, the transfer order was rescinded, and the boat remained with Betasom for the remainder of its operational life. During this mission, the Archimede and the Marconi sought the convoy signaled by their command, and the latter was able to make contact on October 26th. Two days later the Marconi sent the last signal, and then all traces of the vessel were lost. Eventually, 48 hours later, the Archimede interrupted the search for this convoy and returned to base. Also lost during this mission was the submarine Ferraris, which had succumbed to the destroyer H.M.S. Lamerton after an unequal fight with the deck gun.
After a long refitting period, the Archimede was transferred to the command of T.V. Gianfranco Gazzana Prioroggia, the Italian submarine commander who would achieve the greatest total tonnage sunk and second only to Carlo Fecia di Cossato for the total number of sinkings. The subsequent mission took the Archimede off the coast of Brazil.
Departure took place between the end of April and the beginning of May, and the boat reached the assigned area on May 23rd; three days after the Bagnolini, the same day as the Cappellini and almost a week after the Barbarigo, which would be involved in the famous affair of the first mysterious sinking of an American battleship. During the transfer, on May 13th, the Archimede intercepted a signal from the Bagnolini north of Cereà (Brazil), but could not locate the vessel previously spotted. Upon reaching the final area, the Archimede intercepted in position 2º10’S, 35º55’’W a cargo ship ablaze escorted by surface units, thought to be destroyers of the “Maury” or “Somers” classes. In reality, it was the destroyer Moffett of the ‘Porter’ class. Captain Gazzana Priaroggia fired two torpedoes and heard two explosions, but it appears that the weapons never reached their target. Soon after, he was the object of a prolonged hunt. He wrote :
As a result of these attacks, the Archimede began leaking diesel fuel from the hull, making it easy to spot. Betasom relocated the Archimede further north, where a new sighting could not be followed by a pursuit. Eventually, the boat used up all the fuel reserve available and began the return voyage, but on the 15th it intercepted and attacked the American ‘Colombian’, a ship of 4,954 tons, which avoided the torpedoes. The same day, the Archimede had intercepted and sunk another ship, the 5,586 t. Panamanian freighter ‘Cardina’. The ship was in service to the United States, and the U.S. Merchant Marine did not report any casualty. Continuing on, on June 27, while near the Azores, the Archimede intercepted a large convoy escorted by several surface units that could not be attacked due to the distance and direction of the ships. The boat returned to base in Bordeaux on July 4th after another long but not fruitless mission.
The following mission took place in the month of October. The Archimede, now under the command of T.V. Guido Saccardo, was tasked with refueling the Cappellini at sea, off the African coast. The boat left base on September 15th along with the Bagnolini. The original plan called for the vessel to reach Freetown, but B.d.U. had U-Boats already operating in the area, so Betasom was asked to delay its vessels. Due to great delay accumulated, the original plan to have the Archimede refuel the Bagnolini was abandoned and the vessel was freed to conduct offensive patrol. On October 8th, the boat reached a new area and the same day it intercepted the ‘Oronsay’, a large British passenger ship of 20,043 t. This ship belonged to the ‘Orient Steam Navigation Co, Ltd’ of London and was built in 1925 by the shipyard ‘John Brown & Co.’ of Clydebank. Capable of transporting 592 passengers, it was being used as a troopship. Of the people on board, 5 lost their lives, 26 were captured as P.O.W.s, and the remaining 412 survived. The sinking was given in position 4º 08’ N, 20º 57’ W by the Italian authorities, and 4º 29’ N, 20º 52’ W by the British.
A few hours later, the Archimede attacked the 16,991 t. Greek passenger ship ‘T.S.S. Nea Hellas’, formerly known as the ‘Tuscania’, a British ship of the ‘Anchor Line” of London. This famous ship, affectionately known as the 'Nelly Wallace' by Allied troops, was in service to the Allies and was not returned to Greece until 1947.
It is not known if the Nea Hellas (New Greece) was hit by one of the torpedoes launched; it appears that it was, but eventually it was able to run away and avoid sinking. After continuing patrolling this area until the 19th, the Archimede was later repositioned south of the Capo Verde Islands, and area which it occupied until the end of the month. Having failed to intercept any traffic, it returned to base reaching Bordeaux on November 17th.
The following and last mission took the vessel back to the waters off the Brazilian coast. The Archimede, still under the command of T.V. Guido Saccardo, left Le Verdon on February 26th, 1943 with general instructions to reach the area off Pernambuco, Brazil. The original operational plan called for the submarine to leave the area when the diesel fuel reserve was down to about 70 t., and then receive additional fuel from an Italian or German submarine. Eventually, with the extra fuel the boat would have been able to reach Rio de Janeiro, but the plan was called off. Instead of venturing south to the 23rd parallel, the Archimede remained north of the 20th. On the 10th of April the Archimede sent the last signal informing base of his position, given at 16º 45’S, 37º 30’ W, and also informing the Italian command that it had only 61 t. of diesel fuel left. At that point, the Archimede was given the coordinates for meeting a German submarine from which it would have received enough fuel to return to base. At 2:00 AM on the 15th, an airplane intercepted the Archimede, but due to technical difficulties of anspecified nature, the submarine could not submerge. The first plane, a spotter, called two more to the scene.
They were aircraft from the 93rd Patrol Squadron (They belonged to the U.S. Navy Patrol and were part of VP-83, which was also credited with the sinking of U-164 and U-507). The first aircraft , a PBY-5A Catalina piloted by Ensign T. E. Robertson, attacked in position 03°23'S, 30°28'W. Robertson made the first bomb run, dropping four depth charges from about 650 meters, and possibly damaged the boat. The second Catalina, piloted by Lieutenant G. Bradford, Jr., attacked minutes later, dropping four more depth charges from an altitude of 50 feet, which centered the vessel, breaking it into two sections which rapidly disappeared into the sea. About 20 crewmembers were able to survive and the American aircraft dropped three rubber craft. On May 27th, 27 days into an unimaginable ordeal, Brazilian fishermen found one of the original rubber crafts with three sailors; two already dead and one near expiring. After a long period of recovery, the only survivor, Giuseppe Lococo , was transferred to a POW camp in the United States. Only at the end of the conflict would Italian authorities receive detailed news of the loss of the Archimede and the terrible ordeal of its only survivor.
The Archimede upon its arrival in Bordeaux.
The long journey of the Italian submarines from East Africa to Bordeaux, France.
Admiral Parona, the head of Betasom, congratulates Commander Marino.
Oronsay, the 20.043 t.s.l. liner sunk by the Archimede.
T.S.S. Nea Hellas
The Sinking of the Archimede.